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There are a lot of video players out there, but you probably only need one. You might even be able to make do with the one that comes pre-installed with macOS.
But if you are searching for an alternative, there are a few top quality free options that have everything looking for. These apps let you play just about any format you come across, build playlists, grab subtitles, convert files, and even stream from a variety of sources.
The Best Video Players
These are the first apps you should download if you’re after a rock-solid tool for video playback and other media. They’re all free, and they should play most formats you come across. It doesn’t hurt to have all three at your disposal, just in case.
Is VLC the best media player on the planet? Possibly. It plays just about everything you throw at it, whether it’s a file, a stream, or a disc image of a DVD or BluRay. Compressed files are decoded using GPU, which takes the strain off your CPU so you can efficiently watch video while performing other tasks.
VLC also includes plenty of advanced features, like the ability to stream to devices across a network or transcode video files to other formats. You can fine-tune your playback using video controls, adjust the speed, correct out-of-sync subtitles or audio tracks, take snapshots, and mess around with video effects if you’re so inclined.
Best for: VLC plays it all and can handle most common video playback tasks. It’s lightweight, and comes with a few advanced features like network streaming and powerful playback controls.
There used to be a bit of debate over which media player reigned supreme: VLC or Mplayer. The Mac fork of Mplayer, known as MplayerX, recently had malware bundled with its installer. Another fork known as Mplayer for Mac Extended has since been discontinued, as has the other alternative mplayer2. Fortunately the open source project mpv makes a great replacement.
Based on a fork of the original Mplayer and defunct mplayer2, mpv provides a great alternative to VLC in a sleek package. Open source and completely free, the app includes OpenGL-powered video output, GPU video decoding, and simplified command-line options for power users. There’s technically no “official” graphical user interface, so on-screen controls are a little sparse, as mpv is easy to embed into other applications.
Best for: Lightweight video playback of a vast number of formats, with OpenGL support. The only real alternative to VLC you’ll ever need.
I know what you’re thinking, QuickTime might not count as a “universal” video player on the basis that it’s an Apple first party app and lacks the codec support of VLC or mpv. That may be true, but in the right circumstances it’s a surprisingly competent player and comes with a few handy features that are worth keeping in mind.
In addition to playing videos, QuickTime Player can also convert them to formats that are perfect for your portable devices. It’s the quickest free way to make screen recordings on your Mac, and you can even record iOS devices by connecting your iPhone or similar via Lightning cable.
Best for: Watching videos when you have nothing else installed, recording your screen or iOS devices. Find it in the Applications folder of any Mac or launch it quickly with Spotlight.
The players listed above are the cream of the crop, but if you’re dissatisfied you might want to check these out next. Despite being capable players, there are slight issues with all of them as noted in the descriptions below.
DivX made its name with a simple video codec, and the company’s freemium player is the only on this list which isn’t open source. Fortunately it does pretty much everything the average user would need. The company doesn’t state exactly what codecs the player is compatible with, but it will likely play most files you throw at it.
In addition to playing video the free DivX player also functions as a media server for DLNA-compatible uPnP devices, a media converter, and Chromecast-compatible streaming source. You’ll also find the other standard options for playback including playlists, support for multiple audio streams, the ability to resume playback on re-opening a file, and 4K support.
Despite not being a first choice, playback was smooth on even high bitrate 1080p files.
Drawbacks: The free version is limited and includes adverts. It also doesn’t appear to be optimized for Retina displays, despite seemingly still being under development.
Just like UMPlayer Miro is free, open source, and promises to play a whole host of video formats. It’s also got some interesting extra features like support for converting and syncing with Android and Kindle devices. This converter can also be used to export videos to other formats, including those suitable for (presumably older) iOS devices.
The app favors a unified approach to media consumption. There’s support for streaming services like YouTube and Internet Archive in the app (it’s just a browser window), and you can even buy music within the app. It can also double up as a podcast player and torrenting app, but you probably won’t want to use it for either.
Drawbacks: Works with macOS Sierra, but it hasn’t had an update since 2012. Larger files can cause playback issues. The website also bugs you to donate money on downloading, which is odd considering development seems to have ceased. Not optimized for Retina displays.
UMPlayer is another free, cross-platform, and open source approach (noticing a pattern yet?) which comes with over 270 video and audio codecs for playing just about everything. That includes a wide array of compressed formats, DVD images, Windows files like .WMV and .WMA, and even YouTube videos.
The app also includes a few niche features like the ability to find and download subtitles for the current file, re-sync subtitles and audio, and a skinnable interface. This particular fork of Mplayer may look a bit dated, but it’ll do in a pinch.
Drawbacks: Though it still works on modern operating systems like macOS Sierra, UMPlayer hasn’t had an update since 2010. Larger files can cause playback issues. It’s not optimized for Retina displays either.
Which Video Player Do You Prefer?
Whether it’s one of the large projects I’ve listed above or a small obscure fork of Mplayer, everyone has an opinion of what the best video player is. So let us know which you prefer in the comments below.
Tell us what your favorite video player for Mac is, and we might just add it to the list.
Image credit: video tape B-Format (DRs Kulturarvsprojekt)
Original article by Steve Campbell.